Tuesday, 9 May 2017

2017 May Newsletter

Our cover image this month ’The Dawn of a New Day’. With the local elections looming Nepal is looking forward to a bright future.

I apologize for the late posting of our April Newsletter, there is no excuse.. it’s just that we’ve had a really busy season! In fact there is a rumour going round that this is possibly one of the best seasons for Nepal Tourism in a couple of years. I hope the momentum continues.

The Status of Tourism in Nepal 2017
An Off the Wall trekking group - Roger, Big John, Little John, Hugh, Ian, Mary-Ann and Kate together with Ongchhu Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa image Ian Wall
Although recently we’ve had a period of unsettled weather with above average snow at higher altitudes and heavy rain lower down trekking has, in the main, not been disrupted with many of the popular routes seeing a good number of visitors. There are an estimated 376 people from 41 expeditions originating from 14 different countries all heading for the summit of Everest with 729 permits being granted to ‘mountaineers’ this season, or as Messner says ‘Mountain Tourists’! Add to that number all the support climbers and other staff and Everest is going to again be a crowded mountain. Numbers are also reported high for those ascending from the north side. No doubt there will be queues on critical sections and no doubt at the end of the day there will be many cases of frost bite as a result of people waiting in line to pass through certain areas and high altitude temperatures are being reported as being as low as -40° this season (without wind chill effects). As always Everest commands the headlines in the related media and several notable mountaineers have added their voice to the discussion over a possible way forward, not only in alleviating the bottle necks but also in terms of reducing the environmental impact of so many people crammed into designated camp sites from Base Camp right through to the summit and back down again. One notable opinion is presented by Reinhold Messner in the Diplomat, an interesting point of view. Check out

With the Everest Ice Fall being ‘fixed’ early on supplies have been steadily heading up to higher camps. Sadly a sherpa guide was hit by a block of falling ice in the ice fall resulting in injury and further up a few porters were caught on their way to Camp 2 when a serac collapsed resulting in one guide being seriously injured.
Looking into the Khumbu Ice-Fall image Ian Wall
Lhakpa Sherpa, now living in the USA, and who has already climbed Everest seven times, wants to make this year summit success number eight, however, she will be climbing from the Tibetan side. Without having any formal training on mountain climbing, Lhakpa, who grew up with 11 siblings, first climbed Mt Everest from the Nepal side in 2000. 

The Aftermath of the Earthquake two years on

April 25th 2017 marked the second anniversary of the 7.8 earthquake that brought damage and death to Nepal in 2015. As a result of the earthquake more than US $4 billion dollars poured into the country in the form of foreign aid. Up to then the government had been struggling to form a majority in order to implement the new constitution. However, it was soon realized that post earthquake there was no provision by which the foreign aid could be pulled down, the constitution was hastily passed and this ultimately resulted in civil unrest in the southern Terai region. Unfortunately this all held up the distribution of aid to those communities hit by the earthquake. Sadly the ineptitude of the government since then has resulted in little advancement in the situation for many families who had their homes and lives destroyed. 

Today, two years on and many are still suffering, with less than 1% of those affected having received more than the first tranche of compensation from the government of $475 and only 3.5% of damaged or destroyed homes have been rebuilt. For more information read

While travelling in Langtang the other day I met up with a Scientific Expedition from Michigan University who were in the region to study earthquake triggered landslides. To my amazement they said that they had initially recorded through satellite surveys over 25,000 landslides that they knew were earthquake triggered, their task now is to visit those sites on the ground! 

All told, the economic impact from the earthquake’s damage was estimated at around $7 billion. Following the earthquake, Nepali women faced many challenges. Many had lost their identification cards during the quake, which were required for receiving assistance, and had difficulty accessing humanitarian relief. Women were especially likely to lack proof of citizenship or proof of ownership of property, making it difficult for them to receive aid and regain access to their homes. In spite of this, women continue to contribute to the slow effort of rebuilding the nation and have begun to assume new roles.
Woman are fast becoming the backbone of the workforce rebuilding Nepal post earthquake image Ian Wall

As communities have moved from needing immediate aid to requiring long-term recovery assistance, women are taking the lead on rebuilding their communities and preparing them for future crises. Some women are being trained as masons to help repair and reconstruct the houses, infrastructure, and cultural sites damaged by the earthquake. Many of these mason trainings focus on building structures that will stand up to future earthquakes. Women are also providing training and knowledge about how to mitigate the effects of a future disaster, spreading the word about how to earthquake-proof homes and conduct first aid in times of crisis. 

In order for Nepal to continue to rebuild and reconstruct, women’s perspectives and abilities must be supported, listened to, valued and utilized. 

Competitors undertaking the grueling Langtang Marathon image TAAN
Both as a memorial to those who lost their live in Langtang during the earthquake and to show that Langtang is now fully open for business the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal along with the Langtang Committee have just successfully concluded the Langtang Marathon, the female winner was Sarita Negi and male winner Hom Bahadur Shirestha.
Mira Rai image Llyod Belchet
Nepal is building a strong reputation in the ultra-trail running world. Trail Running Nepal was established only recently when people like Richard Bull and Rob Cousins realised the potential of some of the Nepali athletes. One young lady in particular Mira Rai is now sponsored by Salomon and has entered events around the world, including in the UK, watch her film ‘Mira’ which won first prize at the Kathmandu International Film Festival 2016, the trailer can be found on ‘youtube’.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PkoYwnSoFU&feature=youtu.be Mira has recently been in Trento as part of their Mountain Festival. 

Mountaineering Laws of Nepal 

In 1974 Nepal started to officially open a large number of its mountains to foreign climbers and expeditions, it goes without saying that the peaks and peak fees are Nepal’s ‘oil’ and as such mountain tourism contributes nearly 4% to the country’s GDP. Nepal has long had a set of laws and policies governing mountaineering activities within the country. Sadly there has always been an element of the mountaineering fraternity that believes that the ‘right to roam’ (free) policy as operated in other countries applies in Nepal. This is definitely not the case in Nepal, many people may not either believe in, or abide by, these laws and to be fair Nepal is not good at monitoring them, but these are the laws, if we don’t like them then we should work together to bring change, the laws should not be deliberately flaunted for personal gain, this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated in the more developed countries where mountaineering activities are more carefully and thoroughly scrutinised.
Nepal Peak - for full details on climbing peaks in Nepal check the above mentioned websites

In the autumn of 2016 two expeditions had legal action brought against them for deliberately bye-passing the system and heavy fines were imposed. In spring 2016 two young and inexperienced English mountaineers tried to make an illegal ascent of not only a ‘closed’ mountain but they also tried to do it on the quiet, no permits and no authorisation. Although they escaped the wroth of the official system the local people took the law into their own hands when they were turned back by local police in Simikot from their initial objective. They then had an expensive flight to a second location only to find that upon returning from a short day walk their tent and climbing gear had been removed ostensibly bringing their ‘illegal’ exploits to an abrupt end. Although two wrongs don’t make a right, Nepal is still a developing country and in the remote areas, often inhabited by uneducated people, it’s often a case of an eye for an eye. Operate by the laws, work to change the laws, or go somewhere else but don’t break the laws!

Missing Trekkers (www.missingtrekkers.com

The first international database of missing trekkers in Nepal 

Every season solo trekkers go missing, and often on the well trodden routes and each year the same topics are discussed here..’All foreign visitors must take a Nepali guide’. Obviously there is a large element of the trekking community who would not take kindly to having a guide imposed upon them. However, all the time stupid accidents occur Nepal feels responsible and is obviously very much aware that some associations are likely to point fingers and make accusations of ‘unsafe’.

On the 12th January 2017 a Pakistani girl was reported missing, last seen at the Kathmandu International Airport and went missing almost immediately, she has not been found. On the 3rd March two Taiwanees trekkers, went missing. Fifty – three days later they were lucky to be found in the Ruby Valley region near the Narchet Khola. Local people lead by Dawa Tamang Ganesh and members of the Himal Tourism Development Committee reported that one trekker was trapped on a cliff but survived although unfortunately his partner had fallen down about 200 meters to the Narchet River from the cliff and lost her life. In Langtang a Danish trekker has been missing since the 6th March, he was last seen heading to Tserko Ri but has not been seen or heard of since. It is feared he tried to take a short cut back to Gyanjin Gompa and fell, he has not been seen since. From 2016 there is still a Frenchman missing in the Kumbu region, it is reported he fell into the Imaja Khola river near Deboche, although the authorities carried out an extensive search his body was not recovered, an Israeli is still missing from the Mardi Base Camp region on the Mardi Himal trek, another Dutchman went missing on the descent from Dhaulagiri Base Camp to the Italian Base Camp and a Russian is still missing in the Tilicho Lake region, he was with a trekking group completing a variation on the Annapurna Circuit trek, his rucksack has been found but there is no trace of him, a Romanian girl who was missing was later found dead in the Chomrung having been caught in a land slip. 

The FITs (Foreign Individual Travellers)

This shouldn’t need putting into words, however, from what we see and regularly hear during the trekking season here in Nepal… I guess it does need spelling out. 

Every season in Nepal sadly trekkers disappear without trace, I have just written two short pieces giving guidance, and my opinion, on how Foreign Individual Travellers (FITs) could go about choosing a guide and/or a trekking agency if that is the way they want to go. Interestingly those trekkers who distain the use of a porter I bet make use of the loads the commercial porters carry up!
Commercial porters often carry ‘overweight’ often choosing chose to carry double or treble loads as illustrated below ©Ian Wall 

However, there are many who don’t want to employ either an agent or guide. In practice employing a guide and/or a porter directly is the best way to financially support the hill people of the country and their extended families. 

Some would say..’Carry your own load’ but it must be remembered that, historically, there were very few roads in the hill districts and since time began these hill dwellers have had no other method of transporting goods into and out of their villages other than by carrying them themselves. Being a porter is their livelihood and the way they earn an income to keep body, soul and family together.
This image was not taken on a trekking route but on just a local trail between two communities. If there is a market then local porters will carry it in..and carry it out image Ian Wall

Employing someone to carry your load and guide you along the way will certainly add to the Nepal experience. The only issues that could be applied to a situation of taking advantage is to expect the porter to carry too much and to pay them too little .. and to not provide those benefits that we would expect in our own lives.. food, accommodation, protective clothing, personal accident insurance etc. All these points I have covered in the previous postings that appear on my blog.

Once the risks have been identified then intuitively the appropriate action should be implemented image Ian Wall
But FITs must take individual responsibility for their actions, they must be physically up to the challenges they set themselves and technically prepared for the conditions and situations that the mountains and their route might throw at them. It is all about the ‘What if?’ question and risk assessment.

Doing your own risk assessment might seem challenging but it can easily be broken down into manageable chunks especially now with all the information available on the internet.
The challenge has been identified now do you have the skills required to safelt negotiate the obstacle image Ian Wall

So what is a RISK ASSESSMENT? Everyone has expectations as to what they want out of life.. and a trek is no different. Completing a RISK ASSESSMENT is actually looking at those expectations and working out what could happen or go wrong that would prevent them being achieved.
Chunk 1 – study the route in detail and identify where the technical, high, long, exposed sections might be. 

Chunk 2 – study the route’s locality, what is the adjacent landscape like. Are there risks of stone fall, avalanche, losing the trail, flooded rivers, river-crossings, broken or missing bridges or even a lack of accommodation if you are undertaking a lodge based trek 

Chunk 3 – Study the prevailing weather patterns, in these times of climate change the weather is very un-predictable, heavy rains, snow, extended strong sunny periods, strong winds.. all could bring your trek to an early conclusion 

Chunk 4 – study your own physical condition and health status 

Chunk 5 – do a proper check of your equipment and source what you are likely to need before going on trek. 

Chunk 6 – and this is the crunch issue… WHAT IF? What if something unexpected occurred, how would you deal with it, do you have the skills and equipment to deal with it and could you manage an emergency situation. What would be the worst case scenario? Identifying a problem before it becomes a problem and thinking strategies through would very much enhance the chance of survival in an emergency. 

No one will ever be 100% safe in the mountain environment and as a famous explorer once said ‘a good adventure is the outcome of a bad risk assessment’. We all have our own comfort zones, for some it might be in the hardest or highest peaks in the world for others it might just be out of sight of habitation, crossing that thin red line could make or break an expectation in a big way. 

Nepal Elections 14th May 2017

Local elections are scheduled to be held on 14th May 2017 in 4 metropolitan cities, 13 sub-metropolitan cities, 246 municipalities and 481 village councils. They are the first local elections for 20 years and the first to be held since the promulgation of the 2015 constitution. 

Local elections were held in 56 municipalities in February 2006 under King Gyanendra but were boycotted by the major political parties and saw low voter turnout. Prior to 2006, the previous elections were held in 1997 with a mandate of five years. Elections were supposed to be held in 2002 but were delayed due to the then ongoing Nepal Civil War. With the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, a three-tier governance system was introduced, with national, provincial and local levels of governance. A Local Body Restructuring Commission was established as required by the constitution under the chairmanship of Balananda Paudel. The commission proposed 719 local structures a number later revised up to 744 by the government. The new local levels were formed by changing the existing cities and village development councils and came into existence on 10 March 2017.
Everyone in Nepal has a political view point and providing everything remains calm there is likely to be an enthusistic turnout

So far the leading up to the May 14th has been peaceful although the election is going ahead without the consent of the ethnic groups from Nepal’s southern plains, the Madhesis, who protested their under-representation in the Constitution and government with a six-month border blockade in 2015 and 2016. 

Dr. George Varughese, the Nepal Country Representative for the Asia Foundation said “These elections are historic because they have the real potential to reduce political marginalization for the first time in Nepal and to return government to its entire people.”

The Madhesis’ violent struggle for regional autonomy and political representation began when Nepal’s civil war ended. As the transition process began, Madhesis came to see federalism as the only way to ensure they would not be dominated by “hill, upper-caste elites.” 

Many Madhesis speak languages other than Nepali and share close cultural ties with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in northern India. They have long been excluded from Nepali civil society, which is centred in Kathmandu. In the Interim Constitution of 2007, their demands for better representation and federalism were excluded, leading to protests and riots across the southern plains, known as the Terai. Over 40 people were killed in clashes with police. On April 12th 2007, parliament amended the Interim Constitution to guarantee a ‘democratic, federal system.’ 

In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes, the Constitutional Assembly fast-tracked the ratification of the Constitution, creating a federalist system with seven provinces that merged plains districts with hills districts. 

The ensuing 2015 protests and blockade threatened to plunge the country back into widespread violence. Politicians in Kathmandu blamed India for orchestrating the blockade and then-Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) pivoted to trade with China for help. Although India didn’t manufacture the blockade, they were complicit in allowing the Madhesis to block border crossings.
The Madeshi people closely linked to the ethnic groups of Northern India

The Nepali parliament passed a Constitutional amendment that appointed seats in the lower house based on population over geography and gave the Madhesi districts greater representation. However, Madheshi demands for two federal provinces exclusively in the Terai were not met and they vowed to continue protests.

Exchange Rate 

Needless to say with the entire world in election buzz mode the sterling pound has taken a hammering along with the dollar. The pound now stands at around 130/- Nrs while the dollar is 100 /- these figures fluctuate daily but only by a few paisa. 

Interesting facts on the Nepalese monetary system 

The rupee was only introduced in 1932, replacing the silver ‘mohar’ at a rate of 2 mohar = 1 rupee. At first, the rupee was called the mohru in Nepali. Its value was pegged to the Indian rupee in 1993 at a rate of 1.6 Nepalese rupees = 1 Indian rupee. 

From 1945 to 1955 the early banknotes issued during the rule of King Tribhuvan were not put into circulation by the Central Bank because it did not exist at that time. The issuing authority was the treasury which had the name Sadar Muluki Khana. Therefore, the notes of King Tribhuvan were not signed by a bank governor, but by a Kajanchi (head of the treasury) who was a high Hindu priest at that time. Nepal’s early paper currency probably includes the only bank notes in the world which were signed by a high priest. These early notes were printed by the Indian Security Press in Nashik and did not have any security features, except for the water marks and the special paper on which they are printed.
A 100/- note with Everest on one side and the rhino on the reverse

Between 1955 and 1972 King Mahendra who succeeded his father, King Tribhuvan oversaw the issuing of banknotes by the Nepal Rastra Bank (Nepal National Bank) which was founded in April 1956. From this period on the Governor of the National Bank had his signature printed on the banknotes. Under King Mahendra the Nepalese Government became “His Majesty’s Government” (expressed by "shri 5 ko sarakar" which literally means “the government of the five times honoured”) and it remained this way during the rule of King Birendra and King Gyanendra. 

Two series of banknotes were issued during the rule of King Mahendra, the first series shows the king in civilian clothes wearing the Nepalese “topi” (hat) while on the notes of the second series the king is shown in military uniform. The second series comprised for the first time notes of the higher value of 500 and 1000 rupees.
A 1000/- note with Everest so dated post 2008

1972 to 2001 during King Birendra’s rule you can also distinguish between two major series of banknotes. The first series features the king wearing military uniform while on the notes of the second series the king is wearing the traditional Nepalese crown adorned with feathers of the bird of paradise. During this period regular banknotes of 2* and 20 rupees and special banknotes of 25* and 250* rupees were issued for the first time, (*these have subsequently been withdrawn). The legends found on the last issues of King Gyanendra reverted to the Nepal sarakar (“Nepalese Government”), thus omitting the reference to the king.
A 10/- note at the moment printed on plastic
In October 2007, a 500 rupee note was issued on which the king’s portrait was replaced by Mt. Everest. This reflects the historic change from a ‘Kingdom’ to a ‘Republic’ which took place in May 2008. Further notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1000 rupees with images of Mt. Everest but without reference to the king in their legends followed in 2008. The first issues of the 500 and 1000 rupee notes were printed on paper which still had the king's crowned portrait as watermark in the "window" on the right part of the face of the notes. It was decided to print a red Rhododendron flower (Nepal's national flower) on top of the watermark. In 2009 notes of these denominations are printed on paper which has a Rhododendron flower as watermark instead of the royal portrait and were therefore released without the additional overprint in red. 

The amazing thing about Nepal is that we all regard it as a ‘living museum’ but in reality there is so much that has only been developed in recent years. Look at any ‘old’ photo’ of say Bouddhath and sigh, ‘I wish I had seen it then’ then when you look at the date... 1975! 

Other news 

As a result of this edition of our newsletter coming out around four weeks later than normal I can report on events as they are unfolding on Everest. 

Sadly the first death on the mountain this season is that of the world class climber Ueli Steck. Steck gained fame for his audacious fast and solo ascents of some of the hardest routes in the Alps and the greater ranges of the world. Steck was in the Khumbu region to try to complete a traverse of Everest starting up the West Ridge from Camp 2, crossing the summit, descending the normal South Col route and then traversing across to gain the summit of Lhotse via the Great Couloir, finally descending back to Camp 2. All elements had been climbed before but never as one single route in a single push. It is unclear exactly what happened but Steck fell a 1000m over some very steep and unforgiving ground. Our thoughts are with his family and close friends. He was a good friend to Nepal.
Ueli Steck 4th October 1976 - 30th April 2017
The Man who led the way ‘Quick day from Basecamp up to 7000m and back. I love it its such a great place here. I still believe in active aclimatisation. This is way more effective then spending Nights up in the Altitude!’ He will be greatly missed, he made a huge impact in the climbing world and his spirit will live on.

A couple of seasons back there was a situation regarding the issuing of summit certificates. This morning it was reported that many of the Sherpas on Everest this season are lobbying the Government in an effort to get their summit achievements officially recorded through the issuing of Summit Certificates. While I question the appropriateness of these certificated for participants on present day commercial expeditions there is a case to support Nepalese staff receiving them. The weight of an Everest Certificate adds grain value to their climbing bio data and employment opportunities. 

On Kangchenjunga!
Dawa Sherpa, Pasang Akita Sherpa and Maya Sherpa heading towards the summit of Kangchenjunga

The girls are going strong.. onwards and upwards. Strong winds and snow have again forced them to descend to Base Camp from Camp 3. As yet there is no news as to when they will continue their ascent but they are all in fine spirits. Good luck ladies. 

As a final entry for this newsletter information is coming through from Everest Base Camp that Min Bahadur Sherchan, who was trying to reclaim the record for being the oldest person to climb Everest has died at Base Camp of what is thought to be a heart attack. While many might critise him as being foolish he at least died doing what he loved as opposed to sitting in front of the TV.
Min Bahadur Sherchan died doing what he loved

Last but not least.. last year we completed a challenging trek through northern Dolpo, to say it’s remote is an understatement. Our final destination was a small unclimbed peak, which despite sitting out several days of bad weather at base camp, we ultimately failed on. However the last community that we passed through was situated at the bottom of a deep valley surrounded on all sides by steep and barren hills. But the valley floor was fertile as the result of many hundreds of years of attentive land management by the local community. 

On the way into the village and about 3000 m above it we meet a young guy who was travelling in the opposite direction, a three day journey for us A to B, to collect medicine for a friend of his in the village. By the time we eventually got down to village level the young man had already returned with the medicine and was ready to complete a day’s teaching in his school, he was 22 years old and the ‘head’ teacher. Our team were so inspired by this guy and his vision for his village that they decided they wanted to support in some way without creating ‘donor’ dependency. 

To this end they agreed to support the school annually with school’s the stationary materials that it required and at the same time and when the funds became available to help construct another two class-rooms. In the mean time sufficient funds were raised to supply a stove from the range of stoves provided by the Himalayan Stove Project. The teacher not only did his ‘teaching’ duties but he also spent time (probably more) running in and out of the kitchen preparing meals at lunch time for the children. We have now roped the Mothers’ Group in to do the cooking on a state of the art Envirofit stove. Once they saw the new stove a few weeks back there were more volunteer cooks than children! 
Tsewang Rinzin Choekhortshang , head teacher 

A big ‘thanks’ to the HSP.
80 kg of Himalayan Stove about to start its journey to Dolpo

Enjoy summer and more towards the beginning of next season.
May 2017

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